Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet is on the seventeenth day of race ten from Oakland, California to Panama. With yesterday’s introduction of the Clipper Race Committee’s shortened course for race ten, the sprint for the finish line has well and truly begun as the ten-strong fleet continue to battle against the fickle wind conditions.
Visit Finland - The Clipper Race fleet left Jack London Square in Oakland on 14 April to start Race 10, to Panama - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
'With the finish line now within a couple of days reach, the race has stepped up a gear as we try to squeeze every ounce of boat speed out of the light and unpredictable wind,' explains Visit Finland skipper, Olly Osborne.
'The decision to go with a more inshore route across the bay appeared to working out initially as we saw some good gains on our closest competitor De Lage Landen, but last night the tables turned again to favour the more offshore boats and we are beginning to feel the pressure of the boats closing from behind.
The Finnish entry currently sits just 176 miles from the race ten finish line, with only De Lage Landen and Gold Coast Australia ahead of them.
'We have played our second Stealth Mode, and it is going to be a very exciting and a tactically challenging couple of days running up to the finish line. The heat is as ever a challenge but it does account for what little wind we do have during the day as the land warms up,' continues Olly.
'Keeping the boat moving during the night is the greatest challenge, but I am still hoping that our route will pay off during the coming days and we are going to be doing everything we can to secure a podium finish.'
Hoping to keep Visit Finland behind them is the crew of De Lage Landen, who are currently on a holding a more southerly course compared to the Baltic entry.
'Very frustrating conditions and we are plagued by light airs,' reports Stuart Jackson, skipper of the Dutch team.
'On the upside, we have been flying our spinnaker the entire time and seen an amazing amount of wildlife. Pod of a couple of hundred dolphins today! Spirits are good on board and everyone is looking forward to finishing racing in the next couple of days.'
Currently in the lead, Gold Coast Australia skipper Richard Hewson, describes the last 24 hours on board the Australian entry.
'We’ve been sailing well in light and fickle winds over the past 24 hours as we try to place a loose cover over our nearest rivals De Lage Landen who are 50 miles to the south. Whilst the weather data shows that there is more wind in shore, there are also some very high mountains that need to be considered in the tactics and so we are trying to stay as close into the shore as we dare without running the risk of being becalmed in the lee of the mountains.
'De Lage Landen is well to the south and clear of the lee and so we need to make sure that we try to stay in the same, if not better, conditions as them until the finish,' continues Richard.
'Though we may make greater gains by sailing in shore and picking up the terrestrial winds it is not worth the risk.
'Another day surrounded by this beautiful seascape filled with plentiful wildlife. For the majority of the night last night dolphins accompanied us as we coasted along the coast, their bodies lit up by the phosphorescence in the water providing us with a fantastic light display. Throughout the day more whales, dolphins, turtles and even a shark coasting along behind the boat for a short period.'
Elsewhere within the fleet, Qingdao and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital have continued their tussle for eighth and ninth position.
'Today started with some bad news, I'm afraid. In fact, at first light, after a night characterised once again by very light airs, we spotted Qingdao back in front of us,' explains Flavio Zamboni, skipper of Edinburgh Inspiring Capital.
'I must acknowledge their decision to go inshore the previous evening looking for better breeze was the right one. In fact, it clearly paid off! We were not that keen on such a move since every time we've tried to stay a bit closer inshore in this race we've never had any real advantage from it.'
With around 300 miles left to race the Scottish entry will be hoping to make a final assault up the leader board and move ahead of their Chinese rivals.
'Not keen on giving up, we spent all day trying to catch up and I must praise the Edinburgh Inspiring Capital crew for their determination and focus.
'Unfortunately, in these very light airs we are not competitive and, despite much effort, we saw Qingdao marginally increasing their advantage,' says Flavio.
'It hasn't been all bad, though, since during the afternoon we ran over a long line without getting tangled in it. That would have meant yet another loss of time and avoiding that was certainly a lucky escape!'
Over on board Qingdao, Ian Conchie, skipper of the Chinese team, reports of the same fickle conditions frustrating the fleet.
'As expected the wind has dropped away throughout the day until this afternoon we were completely stationary. We have managed to get moving again now with some careful helming and trimming but in these very light winds it requires a lot of effort to just keep the boat moving.
'The temperature in the mean time is getting hotter and hotter. We tried to measure the temperature on deck today but our little thermometer maxed out so was probably not working but it has been over 40 degrees down below,' continues Ian.
'Despite getting a warning about long lines we managed to snag one today and wrap it round the keel. This forced us to drop the spinnaker we had up and stop the boat before sailing backwards to clear the keel.
'Whilst doing all of this we noticed that a turtle had got trapped in the line as well but we managed to pull the line in and free it. The crew decided to name it ‘Aggie’ after one of our Leg 6 crew members. After a lot of effort (It’s not easy to make a Clipper 68 sail backwards) we managed to clear ourselves as well and were able to re-hoist the spinnaker. We lost time during all of this but Edinburgh Inspiring Capital didn't manage to overtake us! We also had the spectacular sight of what we think was a blue marlin jumping clear out of the water nearby.'
Currently in Stealth Mode, Welcome to Yorkshire, will be hoping to spring a tactical surprise on the rest of the fleet with their position hidden until 0000 UTC tonight.
'It all feels very 'cloak and dagger' at present,' reveals skipper, Rupert Dean.
By far the most southerly boat of the fleet when they entered Stealth Mode, the Yorkshire entry may well have a trick up their sleeve which could see them climb the fleet.
'As the fleet sails through the compulsory gates, which can also double as finish lines, half the boats have been in Stealth Mode. This adds considerable suspense to what has already been a mentally taxing, highly tactical race,' signs off Rupert.
Currently occupiers of fifth position, Geraldton Western Australia, experienced an eventful 24 hours, according to skipper, Juan Coetzer.
'’Skip. Skip... The kite has come off the spinnaker pole’. Somehow the snap shackle unclipped itself, resulting in the kite flying off the kite sheet. The crew responded really quickly and we dropped the kite - checked it for any damage, packed it back into the kite bag (un-wooled) and hoisted it up again.
'Fun and games. The wind died off completely last night, there was not even a breath of wind and so we were at the mercy of the current, and at least it was sweeping us in the right direction. Sun up this morning the breeze filled in a wee little and we were off again,' continues Juan.
'Now out of Stealth Mode, most of the fleet has opted to go into Stealth Mode, so it is very difficult to gage how we are doing.'
Locked in a battle for sixth and seventh position are Singapore and New York with only nine miles separating the two teams who are currently placed fourth and fifth respectively on the overall race leader board.
'We've had another baking hot, glassy still windless day on Singapore,' reports skipper, Ben Bowley.
'Speeds in excess of three knots were receiving a cheer things were so bad; I heard but three cheers through the course of the day! We had hoped that the sea breeze would fill in a little stronger and earlier than expected but although late, it is giving us a nice push at present.
'Currently we are making six knots of boat speed for six knots of true wind, reaching along with our light weight kite up. We are a little torn between bearing off to reduce our distance to the next gate or to keep sailing a bit deeper and try to remain in a slightly stronger band of pressure,' continues Ben.
'As the latter failed us yesterday, we shall try the former this evening. Now we are hoping that we have made better ground on the boats offshore whilst they were in Stealth Mode and we can pip them to the line!
'It's all still to play for in the bottom seven this race,' signs off Ben.
On board seventh placed, New York, skipper Gareth Glover, reveals a sluggish 24 hours.
'A slow day here on New York after a good night’s racing as the sun came up the wind turned off and wind speeds were less than two knots, the only boat speed we had was from a small current taking us to the east.
'It was a very hot day and we did try a few different sail evolutions to try and get us moving so the light kite went up and down a few times and the wind seeker and Yankee 1 were also tried without any joy.
'As the sun set we gained a few more knots of wind and slowly started to move again under Yankee 1, the wind is very patchy so it’s hard to keep a good course and speed in any one direction so as the night cools down we are hoping it becomes more steady and we can make good time to the gate.'
Derry-Londonderry, current holders of fourth place are still not ruling out a podium finish in this highly tactical race to Panama.
'Now that the new finish line has been put in place we can now concentrate on our final few days of tactics!' says Mark Light, skipper of Derry-Londonderry.
'After a night of steady winds with moderate progress, we have a pretty tough day, by around 1000 (local time) the wind had all but deserted us leaving us bobbing around at the mercy of the Californian current and the searing heat from the big, bright orange sun.
'It was all we could do to keep the boat moving in vaguely the right direction, the wind was very light and fluky, sometimes veering (rotating in a clockwise direction) and sometimes the opposite is true, the wind backs (rotates in an anti-clockwise direction),' continues Mark.
'This keeps everybody on their toes as we do our best trying to get to the new finish line, before the wind dies out completely!
'Before sunset today the wind filled in and we started to move. Unfortunately for us the new wind, when it arrived, was blowing from absolutely the direction in which we wanted to sail. We quickly changed to our Yankee 1 headsail and are now sailing very slowly in a direction that resembles our desired course.
'Hopefully, this breeze continues through the night to allow ourselves best course and speed.'
The first teams are expected to reach Panama between 9 and 10 May, where they will await their slot to pass through the canal before commencing race 11 to New York.
Positions at 0900 UTC, Monday 30 April 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 124nm*
2 De Lage Landen - 159nm (+35nm**)
3 Visit Finland - 176nm (+52nm)
4 Derry-Londonderry - 252nm (+128nm)
5 Geraldton Western Australia - 266nm (+142nm)
6 Singapore - 266nm (+142nm)
7 New York - 275nm (+32nm)
8 Qingdao - 310nm (+186nm)
9 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 316nm (+192nm)
10 Welcome to Yorkshire - 321nm (+197nm) Stealth Mode. Position at: 30 April 2012 0000
*DTF = Distance to Finish, **DTL = Distance to Leader. Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found online.
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website